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Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life

Warner Bros. // Unrated // November 28, 2017
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted February 1, 2018 | E-mail the Author
The Miniseries:

The rising popularity in revivals of classic television shows has introduced a new, interesting element of storytelling to consider: the perception of character consistency over the story's passage of time. Clearly, fans of the show will go in with the belief that they'll be spending more time with old favorite characters, satisfying nostalgic desires as the cast and crew drum up the same kind of rapport that they established early in the show's history. But, as the years go by and the performers age, so too do the characters inherently tied to their appearance and mannerisms, which puts those reviving a specific show in the tricky position of staying true to the characters while illustrating how they've grown in the time away. A decade has passed since Gilmore Girls went off the air, ending soon after focal character Rory graduates from Yale University and heads into the "real world". Those are pivotal years in developing who a person's going to become, and this revival, A Year in the Life, must make her both familiar to their core audience and illustrate how she -- and everyone around her -- has grown since.

Since the show's original finale, Rory (Alexis Bledel) has successfully pursued her calling as a freelance journalist, becoming renowned with one particular article that seems to follow her around everywhere. The business of her lifestyle has left her mostly untethered to any home and bouncing between New York and London, resulting in less and less visits to Stars Hollow and to her mother, Lorelai (Lauren Graham). Unsurprisingly, Lorelai still owns and operates the Dragonfly Inn, though the big change (obvious as it may seem after the prior series finale) lies in the fact that she's now living with diner owner/operator Luke (Scott Patterson) -- in Lorelai's familiar house -- and they remain in a committed relationship. Rory finally makes it back to Stars Hollow around Christmas, which begins A Year in the Life's chronology, centered on how the "Gilmore girls", including mother/grandmother Emily (Kelly Bishop) and the loss of her husband, deal with the changes in their lives that push them apart and bring them back together.

In the real world, a lot has happened over the course of a decade with the cast of Gilmore Girls, notably the passing of Edward Herrmann and the celebrity status of Melissa McCarthy, creating unshakable obstacles for show creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and her collaborative husband, Daniel Palladino. The stretch of time occurring offscreen affords them plenty of opportunities to conceal those details, perhaps even leaving them in the past, yet they've decided to interweave their key characters' absences directly into the current events of the revival, to mixed results. Regardless of the quality -- the death of Richard Gilmore adds melancholy richness to the girls' meetings; the lack of Sookie as the chef of the Dragonfly Inn leads to forced dramatics and hokey cameos in the kitchen -- the ways they linger in the storyline are intensely present, overselling how they're dealing with the obstacles by not allowing them to simply exist within the storytelling. Mostly, it's a concern with the first installment "Winter", the one responsible for catching everyone up, and it struggles while filling in the gaps and showing how the characters have adjusted.

It's hard to ignore exactly how important Rory can be to the storyline in Gilmore Girls, not just because she's a main component of the show's signature witty dialogue and young-parent drama, but because the people of Stars Hollow followed and invested in her promising growing-up process over the years. This is where A Year in the Life gets complicated, because it's natural to assume that she's changed from when she entered the "real world" to her current state in her 30s; in fact, more time has passed offscreen than the show covered. Therefore, to say that "she's different" would carry some baggage, but there's certainly controversial elements going on in the life decisions she's made, less professionally than personally. As a wordsmith with a degree from Yale and her penchant for good luck, opportunities have naturally fallen into her lap, and she's reacted accordingly. The paths taken by her love life, which, of course, involves more than one person and treads along the lines of infidelity, takes Rory's character into questionable territory, into the realm of selfish mistreatment of others and not learning from prior life lessons. It begs the question: is Rory a decent person, and, more importantly, does she need to be?

The banter between Lorelai and Rory remains a driving force behind Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, transpiring mostly around Stars Hollow but also as Lorelai ventures out to other settings and with other people. Their relationship isn't really a core pillar of this limited series at first, though, since both are largely preoccupied with their own personal and professional concerns, and their exchanges are largely more dramatic in response to that. Despite some inexplicably petulant traits involving her relationship with her mother, ones that seem exaggerated even without considering that she's pushing 50, Lorelai Gilmore feels like a comfortable progression of herself from a decade prior, hinged on how she maintains her staff at the Dragonfly Inn -- Michel's (Yanic Truesdale) still around -- and, more importantly, new challenges regarding her comfort-zone kinship with Luke. Their rapport, and Luke's own balance of changing yet staying the same, becomes the most charming aspect of this revival as it touches upon genuine drama involving having children, negotiating finances, and the necessities -- or lack thereof -- of marriage.

Put frankly, "Winter" gets things off to a difficult, chilly start in Stars Hollow, and it's tough to shake off the oddities found in the first installment's tweaked representations of the Gilmores and the moving parts of their situations. A Year in the Life shouldn't be evaluated solely on this reintroduction, though, as "Spring" begins to thaw out their personalities and let the elevated-reality quirkiness come to the surface. The inclusion of certain personalities from past seasons can appear relatively manufactured, such as how Paris Gellar (Liza Weil) gets involved in the situation, but the familiar exchanges and attitudes eventually rediscover the show's playful rhythm and warmth, adjusted to the times by the characters' aged attitudes. More than anything, the key players in Stars Hollow's gossipy, nurturing, yet explicitly idiosyncratic network of individuals -- entrepreneur Kirk (Sean Gunn); town organizer Taylor (Micheal Winters); next-door neighbor Babette (Sally Struthers); numerous others -- recreate the uniquely inviting tone of the show by, well, not changing much at all with their schemes and attitudes. Despite a decade of age and the show's obligation to evolving the main characters, Stars Hollow itself should at least come across as comfort food for fans.

As should the progression of events that flow through the rest of A Year in the Life, which follows how Rory grasps the right way for her to rebound from professional disappointments and how Lorelai cements what once seemed like a deliberately unstable future. There are missteps, big ones -- such as a fully-formed musical play put on by Stars Hollow that goes on way, way too long, so prepare for that -- but creator Amy Sherman-Palladino understands bringing narrative threads full-circle and giving fans those certain satisfactions that they were denied with the first semi-abrupt ending, and she doesn't waste any opportunities. Filled with unabashed sentimentality, heaps of quirkiness, and all the cameos one could hope for, the entirety of "Fall" brings the characters to content, believable places following a year of turmoil and realization, perhaps to places they should've arrived at a half-decade prior. Yet, there are enough hooks left to continue into another year in the life of Gilmore Girls, strategically placed just in case another revival ends up happening.

The final scene of A Year in the Life, which contains "four words" that have become infamous among fans since the episodes' release, wasn't originally intended for another follow-up season … but it could very easy lead to that, if desired. With that last moment, Gilmore Girls ends not only on an emotionally layered and surprising note, but a contentious one, sparking thought about the show's intentions while twisting the carefully-crafted mood of the episode in a different direction. Creator, writer, and director Amy Sherman-Palladino offers something to her loyal audience that suits the series and remains frustratingly open-ended at the same time, with its strengths lying in how it serves as an echo of the show's reasons for being and how it fits in with the multifaceted consistency of the characters, especially Rory, up to this point. Those hoping for a clean wrap-up for Gilmore Girls might find disappointment after following along for almost two decades, but the road ahead for the Gilmores is bound to lead toward even more growth if/when we're allowed to catch a glimpse at another year later on in their lives.

Video and Audio:

Gilmore Girls never had the opportunity to enjoy the splendor of a widescreen presentation, as it was consistently framed for fullscreen televisions and shot on 16mm film, so A Year in the Life marks a significant change in the show's visual language by moving to digital 1.78:1-framed photography. The cleanliness and width of perspective might take some acclimating for fans, but the photography itself has the cleanliness, depth, detail, and intermittent smoothness one can expect from this style of photography, presented by Warner Archives in a suitably detailed and saturated series of 1080p AVC transfers. Skin tones are cool but pinkish in outdoor winter scenes, yet appropriately radiant and rich in interior shots during the other seasons and within Emily Gilmore's place. The space inside Lorelai's house tends to be the most neutral in terms of color and shadow lightness, and the colors spread throughout her home are highly appealing. Contrast accentuates dimensions in the image, but it also yields oddly light and blue-leaning shadows that sometimes accompany digital photography. Detail is as expected, though, accentuating woven garments, skin surfaces, and hair strands throughout.

Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. You won't find much in the way of interesting sound elements throughout Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, beyond the sounds of cooking, the strums of an acoustic guitar, and the overzealous rattling of an air conditioner. The scoring commands a presence alongside the sound design, balanced rather well alongside other mild atmospheric elements, such as the chatter of restaurants, townhall meetings, and "secret bars". The delivery of the frequently quick, mood-sensitive dialogue becomes the chief element in the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, and it navigates the fluctuation of pitches between participants satisfyingly well, though not without a few hitches. Certain scenes, namely exteriors, have problems with muffling and clarity, but the problems aren't profound enough to not catch the full breadth of what's being said amid the quippy verbal delivery.

Special Features:

Not a thing.

Final Thoughts:

Maybe it's a bit of a stretch, but in terms of roundabout quality, I think the four episodes of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life share a few similarities to the seasons in which each one takes place. "Winter" leaves one cold in the mixture of predictable and jarring elements involved with getting reintroduced to the characters after a long period away from them. "Spring" allows the positive elements of the seeds planted in the prior season to start to blossom. "Summer" lays the show's quirkiness on thick, becoming uncomfortable as it goes on too long … yet also discovers melancholy beauty at the end, once the climate changes. And "Fall" beautifully displays the ending of one state of existence so that another can begin to grow. In more straightforward terms, despite all installments having their ups and downs, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life ends up being two charmingly solid movie-length episodes and another two with notable storytelling flaws, struggling with how it catches up with the characters a decade later and ending on a last-minute, polarizing note that may rub some the wrong way. Fans will of course want to pick this up, but the lack of extras and the limited appeal to casual viewers make this Blu-ray from Warner Archives a Rental package.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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